New York REI Workers Have Voted to Unionize Amid a Growing Wave of Retail Unions

REI workers in a New York City store have officially voted to unionize, making it the first organized REI store in the U.S.

The news comes amid a wave unionization efforts across retail in recent months. Since December, three corporate-owned Starbucks stores have unionized, with more conducting votes and expressing interest. Amazon warehouse employees across the country have also petitioned for union votes in various states. Recently, some workers have led the first union push at an Amazon Fresh retail store in Seattle.

86% of workers at the REI Co-Op in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in a vote conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on March 2. The initial results of the vote were 88-14, though official results are expected be tallied in the coming days, REI said.

“As we have said throughout this process, REI firmly believes that the decision of whether or not to be represented by a union is an important one, and we respect each employee’s right to choose or refuse union representation,” the company spokesperson said in a statement. “We are, at our core, cooperative.”

The new union will represent 116 workers at the store, including all full- and part-time sales specialists, technical specialists, visual presentation specialists, shipping and receiving specialists, certified technicians, operations leads, sales leads, and shipping and receiving leads. The union will represent these workers in contract negotiations set to begin later this year. 

“As members of the RWDSU, we know we will be able to harness our collective strength to advocate for a more equitable, safe and enriching work environment,” said Claire Chang, member of the union’s organizing committee and a visual retail sales worker at REI SoHo.” A union is necessary for many of us to achieve more stability and security in our lives, which could allow for us to explore and play more outside of work! As green vests, we believe ‘a life outdoors is a life well lived’ and in order for that to be viable and accessible to us, we need to be at the bargaining table alongside REI leadership to work out a collective bargaining agreement that works for us.”

REI workers began unionizing in 2020. According to The New York Times, the effort began after certain employees who were outspoken about COVID-19 safety concerns were not allowed to return to work when stores opened after being temporarily closed. In a statement to FN, REI confirmed that less than 5% of its workforce was let go after the store closures and they were given the chance to apply to new roles.

“When our stores reopened, we brought back nearly all employees who had the skills needed and who were available for the hours and shifts required for customer demand at that time,” REI said in a statement.

The wave of retail unionization efforts comes as retailers across the country struggle to fill open jobs in offices and stores. Almost 4.3 million people quit their jobs in December at a rate of 2.9%. Some retailers have hiked pay and benefits in an attempt to attract and retain workers — perhaps as well as incentivize them to return to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Others have raised their wages as part of previously announced plans.

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